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Schools: Creative Subjects and the English Baccalaureate

Volume 820: debated on Tuesday 29 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the teaching of creative subjects in schools since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate.

My Lords, the Government remain committed to ensuring that all pupils receive a high-quality cultural education as part of a broad curriculum. This starts during the early years and continues in school, with art and design, design and technology and music all forming part of the national curriculum from age five to 14. The percentage of young people entering at least one arts GCSE between 2010 and 2021 has remained broadly stable.

The Minister will be aware that since the introduction of the EBacc in schools, there has been and is a creativity crisis—for example, in music there has been a 16.83% fall in A-levels—and there has been a 31.47% fall in students taking those subjects. Obviously, that has a pipeline into universities and only one university now has an English professor. I want to ask the Minister a direct question—no ands, ifs or buts. If it is not the English baccalaureate that is causing the crisis in creative subjects, what is the reason?

We simply do not accept that there is a crisis in creative subjects. The noble Lord rightly quoted some data, but I point out that the percentage of students taking art and design at GCSE is up from 26.5% to 30.4%. He is right that there have been declines in some other subjects, but he will also be aware that the numbers taking vocational and technical qualifications have gone up very substantially, particularly in media: since 2018 the figures for media have risen from 4,500 to 55,000 students.

My Lords, despite what the Minister says, the message clearly being sent out via EBacc to teachers, parents and children is that creative subjects are of lesser worth, a message independent schools are ignoring. Is the Minister aware that there is five times greater spend on music in independent schools than in state schools, including academies? Does the Minister agree that this is bad for levelling up, bad for education and bad for our future economy, a key aspect of which will be the creative industries, as independent schools know full well?

The department does not track the expenditure on these subjects in independent schools. What the department is committed to, and restated in the schools White Paper yesterday, is that every child should have a rich cultural education, and we will be publishing a new cultural education plan jointly with DCMS next year.

My Lords, the noble Baroness’s credentials regarding personal commitment to these issues are impeccable, both in this role and the role she held previously at the DCMS; however, the evidence is against her. As the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, has just said, there is an impact not only on students in schools but on the workforce both within education and in the creative industries more widely, as there is a decline in the numbers of people prepared to take forward qualifications in music, drama and other creative subjects, Does she worry at all that the much-vaunted creative industries, of which she and her colleagues frequently speak with pride, will be suffering over the coming years as a result of these policies?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question and her kind remarks but I just cannot accept what she suggests. As she points out, we have thriving cultural and creative industries in this country. We have enough teachers entering initial teacher training for art and design and drama, well above our recruitment targets. We are committing more funding in T-levels, in media, broadcast and production, and in craft and design, so I think we are building the platform for our creative industries and our children to thrive.

My Lords, are the Government not deeply concerned that their own official data shows that the number of hours of music taught in years 7 to 13 has fallen sharply in the last 12 years? In view of this and of comments of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and others, is it not all the more important that independent schools work closely with their maintained sector colleagues to increase still further the 655 music partnership schemes from which students in both sectors benefit so greatly?

We very much welcome the partnerships from the independent sector in music and many other areas, and my noble friend is right to highlight them. However, we also have a responsibility and an ambition to make sure that our children have a strong music education, which is why we will be publishing our updated national plan shortly.

Does the Minister agree that, if we are to create a world of resilient workers in the next generation, we need to look at how we create these people through a resilient education system? We are in a bigger crisis than we believe. We need to reinvent a holistic form of education, because that is how the world’s businesses are going.

The noble Lord raises a large, broad and important issue. Of course we need a resilient education system and resilient children, and in the announcements in our schools White Paper and the special educational needs and disability Green Paper published this morning, we have set out exactly how we plan to do that.

My Lords, I taught creative subjects for over 30 years and, as principal examiner for A-level theatre studies for much of that time, I saw a wealth of talent studying this subject across the UK. It is essential that we promote the creative arts in our schools. They nurture well-rounded students and bring a breadth and depth to their learning. In hard cash terms, according to DCMS analysis, the creative industries contribute almost £116 billion a year to the UK. If, for example, the current decline in A-level music that many noble Lords have mentioned continues, this subject could have zero entrants in 10 years’ time. What, if anything, are the Government doing to reverse this appalling decline?

At the risk of repeating myself, we have announced that we will publish a cultural education plan together with DCMS, working jointly across government, which is the right way to approach it. We will shortly announce our national plan for music education. We are doing a lot of work and continue to invest around £115 million per year in cultural education.

My Lords, the Minister has told us on numerous occasions that the Government like to listen to employers. When Netflix representatives came to speak to my group, I asked them what they wanted in trainees and whether they wanted people with more English and maths. They looked blankly at me and said, “No, that’s not what we are looking for. We want more rounded people.” Will the Government follow their own mantra and make sure they talk to the big employers, who do not seem to want what the Government are offering?

The Government work extremely closely with employers. Our T-level programme was developed with over 250 employers. I would ask the noble Lord why we are seeing such huge international investment in our film and creative industries if we are not providing the talented people they need.

My Lords, would my noble friend care to reflect on the importance of citizenship education in levelling up and creating a country at ease with itself? Will she join me in regretting that yesterday’s White Paper said nothing about citizenship education at all?

Citizenship education is absolutely a core part of what we deliver. In defence of the White Paper, we were setting out the major new elements of our plan for the next several years, but citizenship remains a core part of it.

My Lords, first-hand experience of the arts can be life enhancing and life changing. Therefore, will the Minister encourage her department to do all it can to ensure that background and income levels are not a barrier to physically accessing the arts?

My Lords, last week, the Incorporated Society of Musicians published a report entitled Music: A Subject in Peril?, based on a survey of more than 500 music teachers. Some 93% of respondents said that the EBacc and/or Progress 8 had caused huge damage to music in schools, resulting in courses not running and music departments shrinking. What reassurance can the Minister give that the refreshed national plan for music education will address these issues and that teachers will be consulted on it before it is published?

The national plan has been developed with an expert panel, of which the noble Lord is aware, and that panel consulted extensively during its work—through forums, surveys and other mechanisms—with teachers, students, parents and other experts. We very much look forward to its publication.